Dr. Judith M. Newman

Four Ways to Clarify

You have a draft—the next step is to make it clear, first to yourself and then to other readers.

It’s important to remember you are your own first reader. You have to read your own copy to make sure it’s clear to you, that you are saying what you want to say.

Now you must become a critical reader.

There are four main ways to clarify:

  • DISCARD—You sense the writing doesn't work, it hasn't gone anywhere. Rather than belabour it, file the draft away and start again
  • RECONCEIVE—You've got a first draft; now you need to go back and recollect, refocus and/or reorder. Because writing is recursive (that is, it keeps circling back on itself) you need to stand back and consider the meaning of the whole; do a quick read with an eye to other ways of "telling your story"
  • REWRITE—There are two aspects of rewriting:
    • Revision—finding elements that require or warrant modification or elaboration in some way
    • Editing—polishing the text to make it appropriate for readers

    Revision and editing are two very different activities.

    With revision, you review the draft of a text from your own point of view to discover what the text contains. Respond to the text as if it were written by someone else. Only the writer can do revision because what matters is the effect of the text on the writer.

    The aim of editing is not to change the text but to make what is there optimally readable. It is not necessary for a writer to do the editing; in fact, writers who publish typically are not responsible for final editing. Editing is essentially a transcription skill. If you are editing yourself, you must try to respond to the text as a different reader.

    The mistake most people make with editing is to plunge in and start editing the language of the text first, working from the written line back to form and then to meaning. That's got it backwards! You need to start with the overall meaning. [See: Effective Editing]

  • PROOF—When you have done all reconceiving and revising you have time to do, then it's time to go through the text and eliminate superficial problems that will interfere with readers making meaning